I just got back from the 41st annual STAFDA trade show in Austin, Texas and I have some interesting tools to share. What is STAFDA you ask? Let me try to get this all out in one breath; STAFDA stands for “SpecialtyToolsAndFastenersDistributorsAssociation”, like in the Mary Poppins song. They serve as a big buyer’s group to lumberyards, construction supply house, and non-chain hardware stores, just as their name suggests. It’s the best trade show for tool guys and gals to attend since it features the greatest concentration of professional tool manufacturers of any show, all in one glorious place.
It is also famous–and perhaps infamous—for its fabulous party scene. Starting with the opening reception block party which ranged from a street festival with a steampunk marching band and food trucks outdoors to live bands and more food and drink at adjacent hotspots indoors. Then on the first full day of the show, many of the manufacturers rent out local bars and restaurants and host giant industry appreciation parties. Whether we’re truly appreciated or not, the media gets invited too and it’s always a hoot. This year the press phalanx roamed all the majors. From barbeque and live chainsaw carving with Makita, to karaoke with Hitachi, to a dignified brandy room with DeWalt, to rooftop games and hijinks with Bosch, and finally to the house band blowout with the late night specialists of Milwaukee. Perhaps not a coincidence, there are fewer revelers in attendance at the closing reception the following night. This year a talented “Texican” honky-tonk band played up the Austin country theme just right. Between the few days spent at this trade show and the afternoon I spent at the Austin Toy Museum, I had a great time in the Texas capital city.
Okay, enough about the supercalifragilousness, let’s get on to the tools.
What’s the most commonly used tool out there? Bottle openers don’t count so it’s got to be a tape measure. Stanley pumped so many improvements into their iconic FatMax tape that it’s bulging at the seams, literally. Along with the advanced coating for durability, dual-spring retractor, and the ergonomic curved case, it also has one feature I did not expect. To maximize its standout but still let the tape sit relatively flat near the hook end, the tape blade tapers to a tighter radius curve from the end to the 13-foot mark, and then flattens out again past that point.
The latest cutting and sanding accessories from Diablo were demonstrated at their lunchtime media event. Carbide cutting is the way at Diablo, with all of the circular and linear edge blades shown tipped with carbide. For recip saws, there are six different styles of carbide blades ranging from extra-fast cutting 3 tpi for pruning and clean wood to 20 tpi for thin metal. The other varieties include general purpose blades, demolition blades for nail-embedded wood, blades for medium and thick metal.
New to Diablo are their 5-inch diameter mesh sanding disks recently reviewed on Home Fixated. They are a direct replacement for paper sanding disks but the nylon material is tougher and boasts the advantage of better dust extraction through the disk for reduced loading. A hook-and-loop interface pad is provided with each pack of disks to stick them to a sander’s pad securely.
Following the growing popularity of 6 1/2-inch circ saws, Diablo makes a full line of carbide-tipped blades to complement them. This includes blades for framing, demolition, finish, ultimate fine finish, ferrous metals, aluminum, and James Hardie composites.
The company’s fourth generation high-pressure air compressor features more versatile features than previous models such as convertible tank options. The main working components of the compressor are attached to two slender air tanks and can be attached to three supplementary tanks for increased capacity. Like previous Max models, the compressor has two separate regulators for simultaneous use with high pressure and standard pressure tools.
Also spotted in the booth is the new high-pressure 18-ga. brad nailer which is surely the smallest one in the world. It features a variable-volume blower button and a “reverse-action” safety mechanism that I like so much. Instead of a spring-loaded contact tip that must be compressed against the work, the safety relies on a little plunger tip that tries to move down as the trigger is pulled. If it is against something solid and can’t push down, the nailer will fire.
Big things are here from Skilsaw. Since being sold to Chervon by previous parent company Bosch, it seems like they are moving a bit faster in the market, but the new specialty tools dropping now have probably been in development for quite a while. Like I said, big things indeed, like the Super Sawsquatch, a worm drive beam saw featuring the biggest and strongest motor Skil has ever made. The huge 16 5/16-inch blade provides a 6 1/4-inch cut depth. Too big for a case, the saw is transported on a stand. It looks like a display stand, but it allows the tool to be set down flat instead of sitting on its blade guard and tipping over. Just the saw for timber frames and SIPs panels.
Another biggie is Skilsaw’s largest portable table saw yet. Bigger than their previous portable worm drive table saw, which I use all the time, the new saw features a 30 1/2-inch rip capacity and extra large wheels on its mobile base.
I also got my first look at Skilsaw’s brand new walk-behind version of the Medusaw concrete saw and their 13- and 15-amp Buzzkill recip saws.
I don’t see Hitachi on my tool travels very often so a lot of items in their booth were first looks for me. I was impressed with their wide selection of battery-powered nailers, which are poised to drive a big change in the industry in my opinion. The battery line ranges from 18-ga. brad nailers to both 30 and 21-degree framing nailers, the first in 21-degree I believe, and the line is expanding with a new 23 gauge pinner. Like other high-end trim nailers, this one has the preferred “reverse-action” safety mechanism which relies on a little plunger tip that tries to move down as the trigger is pulled instead of a spring-loaded contact tip that must be compressed against the work.
In a major revamp of their circ saw lines, Hitachi showed off a new premium cordless model, two premium corded models, and a corded base model. The 6 1//2-inch cordless saw features a brushless motor and a cut depth to rival a 7 1/4-inch saw. Special features include front and rear bevel angle locks, a blower to keep the cutline clear, and a 90-degree stop release that lets you back-cut up to 5 degrees.
The new Ripmax premium corded saws run at a blazing 6,800 rpm, have the same blower and back-cut features as the cordless, and come with or without a motor brake. One little feature Hitachi says will make a big difference is a cord holder under the rear handle that directs the cord sideways to keep it from hanging up on long cuts.
Another show favorite was the ultra-quiet 1-gallon trim compressor which runs at a 59 dB whisper and weighs a mere 25 pounds.
Another notable innovation is Hitachi’s new battery charger which is claimed to charge the brand’s 6.0 Ah battery pack in only 38 minutes. The charger’s USB charging port can be run off an inserted tool battery pack if there is nowhere to plug in the charger.
In collaboration with parent company Hitachi Tools, Metabo’s new impact driver will have the triple-hammer mechanism designed for increased driving speed and power with decreased vibration. The tool will feature 12 speed settings with a Tek screw mode and comes with compact 3.5 Ah battery packs. Just a few years ago full size packs were 3.0 Ah, and Metabo has been leading the numbers in energy density for the last few years. Their latest standard size pack is rated at 7.0 Ah.
We’re still awaiting the release of the Metabo’s cordless dust collecting vacuums which will be available in single-battery 18-volt and dual-battery 36-volt models. In other vac news, the brand’s corded vac will be upgraded to 155 cfm airflow to provide OSHA Table 1 compliance with a wider variety of concrete grinders.
The new OSHA standard restricting exposure to silica dust means a lot more workers will be wearing dust masks a lot more of the time. Trend’s Air-Stealth is a durable, reusable half mask that meets the APF10 approval requirements. The inner filters are replaceable and the exhalation valve at the bottom reduces fogging on safety glasses and visors.
While power tool brands are developing hoseless (non-pneumatic) trim nailers to fit their rechargeable battery packs, Grex is utilizing proven gas cartridge technology and household alkaline batteries to power theirs. Benefits of gas include smaller, lighter tools, adjustable output power, and never waiting for batteries to charge. Along with the existing 18-ga. brad nailer, a 23-ga. pinner is being added to the line.
In the pneumatic line, a tool gaining in popularity is the 21-ga. pinner, combining much of the utility of both 18-ga. brad nailers and 23-ga. pinners.
The latest Grex nailers come with an edge-spacing guide which clamps to a ruler track below the magazine. To upgrade previous nailers with this feature, a retrofit ruler track is available that sildes onto the older magazines.
As a good example of thinking inside the box, Rolair has built a one-horsepower air compressor into a Festool (Tanos) Systainer box. With its removable power cord, the Airstak modular compressor stacks and stores seamlessly with other Systainers.
The newest addition coming to Rolair’s line of quiet-running compressors is the 4-gallon JC40. The prototype on the floor featured a low profile roll-cage, but the final version may have a rolling cart instead.
The latest tool on display from Bosch was the new 12V-max Flexiclick multi-head driver we recently reviewed. Euro-style multiple mode tools don’t always take off in our market, but the combination of heads on this tool make it a no-brainer. Short, compact 1/4-inch bit driver? Check. Standard drill chuck? Check. Right-angle and offset heads for better access to edges and corners? Check and check. Could well become a cabinet installer’s best friend.
In the “if you can’t beat them, join them” category. Bosch unveiled auger bits with a finer pitch feed screw and less aggressive cutting flutes to match the way some users actually work. What was wrong with the standard design? Nothing, but workers who leave their drill in high gear for every task will stall out or burn out drills when boring large holes. The modifications to the new bits make them bore holes more slowly to reduce the load on the tool. One benefit is that they could work in less powerful drills than standard auger bits of the same diameter.
In other good news from the brand, all of their dust-collection vacuums now come standard with HEPA filters, and at no increase in price I’m told. This makes it effortless for users to make sure they are using a vac in compliance with the confusing Table 1 filtration requirements of the new OSHA silica dust standard. Bosch also removed the stipulation in the owner’s manuals that instructed users not to run the automatic filter cleaning feature with a HEPA filter installed. No worries now for using the vacs with silica or lead paint dust.
Milwaukee does such a thorough job showing us the new products for the coming year at their annual new product symposium that it’s nearly impossible to discover anything new at subsequent shows. The biggest news I would say is that the company has gone live with their two-stage filtration HEPA vac for conquering both crystalline silica to OSHA’s standards and lead paint dust to the EPA’s rules.
DeWalt also caught us up with all of their tool releases just a few months back, but one never-before-seen tool premiered at this show. The latest addition to the 60V-max Flexvolt line will be a concrete saw with a 9-inch cutting wheel. The saw has a water feed attachment for OSHA Table 1 compliant use, and therefore also a water resistant battery compartment hatch. The saw also features an overload warning light, fast motor brake, and a rotating adjustable guard. It will probably come with the 9.0 Ah battery pack like other power hungry saws in the line like the chain saw and the new rear handle circular saw. Check out this video from our buddy Jay over at CopTool for more details:
DeWalt’s parent company Stanley Black & Decker acquired Irwin and Lenox last year, and now their accessory lines are being marketed side-by-side in a good, better, best platform with Lenox at the top and DeWalt in the middle. As such, advancements like curved and carbide-tipped recip saw blades are being released in the Lenox brand.
Trim Puller by Zenith Industries
There are a lot of tools you can use to pry base and case off a wall, but if you’re looking to avoid damaging the wall and the trim, this might be the best one. Home Fixated reviewed the Trim Puller last year and we found it useful. Wider and thinner than pry bars and stiffer and stronger than putty knives, this tool is custom made for getting a lot of surface area behind the molding.
As an antique tool collector and user, it’s refreshing to find a company that still makes hand tools that were obsoleted from other manufacturer’s product lines decades ago. As keen as I am on old tools, there were still a few head-scratchers for me at the C.S. Osborne booth. As a maker of specialty items for industry in the U.S. since 1826, the tools they offer represent a wide range of repair and craft fields. Their leatherworking tools are probably what they’re best known for now, but upholstery, sail making and mending, poured metal machinery bearings, longshoreman’s handling hooks and more are all disciplines represented in their eclectic catalog. I was fascinated by many of the tools in their booth and had to pick up and examine many of them.
One of the most interesting niche tools in attendance was a bronze and rawhide maul, shaped and weighted like a carver’s mallet. But not just any rawhide – water buffalo hide is preferred for its special self-lubricating properties. In fact, speaking of niche, the company makes custom water buffalo rawhide gears used to drive historic carousels and the like.
Another one of the company’s unique product lines is the Parmelee Wrench that grips pipe like the fingers of your hand instead of biting into the metal like the teeth on a common pipe wrench. I have never seen these wrenches in a plumber’s tool kit however; they are more at home in oilfields and refineries. But a nice design is a nice design.
In this, my third encounter with Makita this year, I am still seeing new tools for the third time. The new flagship 12-inch sliding miter saw was shown which is similar in design to the 10-inch saw out a few months prior.
In their growing dual-battery, 36-volt cordless line, the brand is releasing 7 and 9-inch angle grinders. The battery packs are contained in a unique cage at the tail end of the tools. Keep your eye on Home Fixated for an upcoming review.
Other cordless highlights include a new 16-gauge trim nailer, barrel-grip jig saw, and a tiny miter saw with a 6 1/2-inch blade.
This little “flooring” saw has a crosscut capacity a little bigger than a 2×4 so it’s for small jobs only. But what a joy to carry around a sub-15-pound miter saw you could easily curl for exercise during your lunch break.
The “Coolest Tech of the Show” Award goes to Makita’s Auto-start Wireless System (AWS). A little sending unit inside select cordless tools links with a compatible vac to turn on the vac along with the tool. For now, only the brand’s compact dust-collection vac is being shown with the technology but it’s sure to expand. My prediction: retrofit sending units will come out to allow existing tools to connect to an AWS vac. However, that doesn’t help sell new tools, so maybe not.
But Wait, There’s More…
Other interesting tools occupying my “ran-out-of-space file” include the Velvicut and Wood-Craft premium US-made axe lines from Council Tool, the self-releasing chalk line of CE Tools, and the OSHA compliant, Bluetooth-linked hearing protection ear buds from ISOtunes.